If you’re like me, you were probably blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic. I didn’t take it seriously at first, but like most sensible Americans, I’ve changed my attitude and my behavior. I’ve stocked up on food and medicine, and I’m staying home most of the time. But I have to leave the house on occasion, and when I do, I carry hand sanitizer.
I’ve never had much respect for hand sanitizer. I’ve always considered it a sad substitute for washing your hands with soap and water while singing happy birthday to yourself, twice. But hand sanitizer is essential when you have to leave your house during a pandemic to resupply your cupboards.
When anyone you meet could be an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19, it’s best always to have a way to disinfect your hands. I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in my pocket to spray on my hands before touching the door handle of my car after shopping. In this pandemic, you can’t be too careful.
Commercial hand sanitizer has been sold out at every pharmacy and supermarket I’ve visited in the past couple weeks. Rather than run around to every open store searching (fruitlessly, no doubt) for hand sanitizer and endangering my life by more possible exposure to COVID-19, I decided to make my own.
Stick to the Tough Stuff
There are lots of recipes for homemade hand sanitizer floating around in YouTube videos and websites. Some of the recipes are questionable, at best. I found one made from vodka and tea tree oil that looked interesting, but I doubt if it’s effective at killing the new coronavirus. Other recipes claim witch hazel, grapefruit seed extract or white vinegar will kill bugs, but I’m skeptical. Many hand sanitizer recipes have added ingredients like tea tree oil, essential oils and vitamin E that could exacerbate allergies in certain people.
In the case of COVID-19, I’m not taking any chances with iffy natural-sounding hand sanitizer recipes. I’m not looking for an aesthetically pleasing experience. I want to murder the bugs. The Centers for Disease Control recommends a hand sanitizing solution that’s at least 60% alcohol to kill COVID-19. (In health care settings, the CDC recommends a 70% alcohol solution.) As we know little about this new virus, I’m sticking with the CDC’s recommendations.
Most rubbing alcohol sold in pharmacies is 70% isopropyl alcohol, which will work OK, if you don’t dilute it too much. If you’re lucky enough to have or find 91% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, use that to make sure your potion easily reaches the 60% alcohol threshold the CDC tells us is needed to kill COVID-19.
I had a bottle of 91% rubbing alcohol hanging around my bathroom, so I decided to use that. My mathy child explained that by using 7 parts 91% rubbing alcohol and 3 parts other ingredients, I’d make a hand sanitizer that’s about 63% alcohol, plenty strong enough to meet the CDC requirements to kill most viruses.
(To make hand sanitizer with 70% rubbing alcohol, I’d need to use 9 parts 70% rubbing alcohol to 1 part other ingredients, my child explained–patiently–to me.)
The World Health Organization’s Recipe
To figure out what “other ingredients” to add to my formulation, I consulted the World Health Organization’s hand sanitizer recipe, which is made from rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol (vegetable glycerin) and water. After another consultation with the aforesaid mathy child, I figured out the correct proportions of each ingredient to use in my hand sanitizer recipe.
This hand sanitizer will dry out your hands if you use it often, possibly creating cracks in your skin that could be entry points for bacteria and viruses. I use it only when I absolutely must. But it’s better than nothing when soap and water isn’t available. It’s also flammable, as alcohol is easily combustible, so don’t use it near anything that’s burning.
In addition to a bottle of 91% rubbing alcohol, I had some food-grade vegetable glycerin (glycerol) in my kitchen (I use it as a sweetener), some hydrogen peroxide (3%) and distilled water. If you don’t have distilled water, you can boil a cup or so of water for a few minutes, let it cool, and use that. Look for vegetable glycerin in the cosmetics section of supermarkets and pharmacies.
You might swap out the vegetable glycerin for aloe vera, which is in a lot of recipes for homemade hand sanitizer. I couldn’t find aloe vera at my organic supermarket, so I didn’t try it in this recipe. Vegetable glycerin and aloe vera are both humectants, i.e. they absorb water from the air. Vegetable glycerin is kinda thick and sticky, but it will keep the formulation from drying out too quickly and it will feel smoother on your skin.
If you can’t locate 91% rubbing alcohol, you can use the regular 70% stuff, but it won’t be as pleasant to use because you can’t add as much vegetable glycerin. I include recipes for each. My mathy child assures me that both formulations will result in a hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of about 63%, strong enough to meet CDC recommendations. Don’t be tempted to dilute the rubbing alcohol any further or it won’t work. This hand sanitizer should hold those nasty COVID-19 bugs at bay until you can wash your hands with soap and water.
Homemade Hand Sanitizer
This hand sanitizer contains 63% alcohol, enough to kill most bacteria and viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
- Recipe #1
- 7 tablespoons rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) 91%
- 1 1/2 teaspoons hydrogen peroxide 3%
- 1/2 teaspoon vegetable glycerin (glycerol) 99%
- 7 teaspoons distilled water
- Essential oil (optional) See NOTE.
- Recipe #2
- 9 tablespoons rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) 70%
- 1/2 teaspoon hydrogen peroxide 3%
- 1/4 teaspoon vegetable glycerin (glycerol) 99%
- 2 1/4 teaspoons distilled water
- Essential oil (optional) See NOTE.
Mix all ingredients together in a measuring cup or small bowl.
Using a funnel, pour the mixture into a small spray bottle.
Seal, and set aside for 3 days to allow the alcohol to kill any mold or bacteria in the bottle.
Use as needed.
Store any extra in a tightly sealed bottle. Refill small bottle as needed.
If you aren't allergic to essential oils, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the mixture to make it smell nice. Alcohol is very flammable, so please don't use this hand sanitizer near any flames.
You need three ingredients, plus distilled water to make hand sanitizer.
In a clean measuring cup, pour 7 tablespoons of 91% rubbing alcohol.
Add 1 1/2 teaspoons 3% hydrogen peroxide.
Pour in 1/2 teaspoon vegetable glycerin.
Swirl the spoon around in the mixture to remove all the vegetable glycerin from the spoon.
Add 8-10 drops of your favorite essential oil (optional) to make the hand sanitizer smell a little nicer.
Add 7 teaspoons of distilled water to dilute the solution so it doesn’t dry out your hands too much.
Using a funnel, pour the hand sanitizer into a small spray bottle. You can find similar bottles at most pharmacies. Store any extra in a sealed bottle.
Allow the hand sanitizer solution to rest for 3 days to kill any mold spores.
Don’t forget to label it. After 3 days, it’s ready to use.